The Arkansas Legislature on Friday (May 8) approved adding more than $93 million to the Arkansas Ready for Business grant program to meet the demand from business owners seeking help to reopen their facilities.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on March 29 unveiled the Arkansas Ready for Business grant program, to be administered by the Arkansas Department of Commerce, for the purpose of helping a wide variety of businesses that may be allowed to reopen in the coming weeks and months. Businesses can apply for $1,000 per employee, with each grant capped at $100,000. Money for the program came from what Arkansas was allocated from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress to provide aid to individuals, businesses and state and local governments in response to the pandemic.
The fund began with $15 million, but was raised to $55 million after an initial response suggested demand would be high for the money. Friday’s action by the Legislature brought the fund total to $147.7 million.
WATER RULES, PLANS FOR MORE TESTING
Gov. Hutchinson announced Friday during his daily COVID-19 press conference that pools, splash pads, water parks, swim beaches and other water recreational facilities may begin reopening on May 22.
Following are some of the rules for the venues that reopen.
• Venues can open at 50% capacity.
• No entry for those with fever, symptoms or recent contact with those infected with COVID-19.
• Social distancing rules must be followed, with markings to note appropriate distances at slides, diving boards, and other areas with a line of people.
• High-touch areas must be frequently disinfected.
• Tables and chairs must be kept six-feet apart.
• Lifeguard training can begin immediately.
The governor also noted a few methods by which he hopes the state can reach a goal of 60,000 COVID-19 tests in May. The methods include requiring testing for all expecting moms, sending Arkansas Department of Health units around the state to test, required testing prior to elective surgeries, and having an ADH mobile lab work to provide tests in minority areas.
Gov. Hutchinson also announced that overnight (48 hours) elective medical procedures can begin May 11. Outpatient elective procedures began April 27. He said the expansion of medical services should help the financial conditions of hospitals and clinics, and may allow Mercy to bring back workers sooner. Mercy on Friday announced layoffs and furloughs in its four-state network.
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 3,747 on Friday, up from 3,665 on Wednesday. Of the 82 new cases, 12 were from correctional facilities. Of the total cases, 691 are active cases, with 2,968 recoveries. The number of deaths remained at 88. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 64 on Friday, down from 70 on Thursday. Of the COVID-19 patients, 14 were on ventilators, unchanged from Thursday.
As of Friday at 1 p.m., there were 1,268,520 U.S. cases and 76,101 deaths. Globally, there were 3,902,628 cases and 272,286 deaths.
ARKANSAS READY, ‘UNITE ARKANSAS’ FLY AROUND
Steuart Walton, chairman of the Arkansas Recovery Task Force, also announced Friday that the Arkansas Ready for Business website has been launched. He called it a “resource” for Arkansas business owners with the website including information about timelines for opening up different business sectors, obtaining personal protective equipment, and recent news.
Walton stressed that all Arkansans must remain focused on following reopening rules.
“The task force really does encourage folks to take a look at these regulations, try and understand them, and really sort of abide by them to the best of our abilities,” he said.
Walton, a pilot, spoke briefly about the Unite Arkansas Fly Around, in which he and other pilots on Saturday will embark on a one-day, 15-city flyover of the state with a fleet of World War II-era aircraft to pay respect to those who died from COVID-19 and to show support for frontline heroes in healthcare and first responders. Walton, who will fly the iconic P-51 Mustang, said the flyover will make “multiple circles” over the cities, and the flyover is also a reminder to people that they all have a role to play during the pandemic.
“Everybody knows that we have to work in formation almost as a state, trust each other, appreciate each other and cooperate with each other in order to get through this crisis,” he said. “That’s what this flyover is trying to bring awareness to.”
OTHER COVID NEWS
• The U.S. Department of the Treasury said Friday that 1.216 million payments to Arkansans totaling more than $2.128 billion have been made through various programs to help individuals, businesses, institutions and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 130 million Americans have received economic impact payments worth more than $218 billion in less than five weeks, the department said.
• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is awarding $4,766,433 to 12 Health Resources and Services Administration-funded health care centers in Arkansas. The money will be used to expand testing and allow for the purchase of personal protective equipment, training for staff, outreach, procurement and administration of tests, and laboratory services. This funding will also support the notification of contacts of patients who test positive and the expansion of walk-up or drive-up testing capabilities.